Pranks

A Study in Pranking, Trickery, and Other Shenanigans: An Interview with my Grandpa

GrandpaThe phone was ringing, and Bobby Francis answered it with an ordinary hello. Fifteen-year-old me could tell by the change of his expression that this wasn’t one of his Java Java buddies calling to catch up or arrange the next gathering. “How did you get this number?” He barked into the phone, “This is a direct line to the White House!” He hung up and explained that it was some telemarketer. He walked out of the kitchen casually, and for the first time, I became fully aware of how clever and hilarious my grandpa is. I visited Bobby last week with my younger sister, Mary, and my older sister, Katie. Because I write this charming pranking column and am a student of the craft, I thought that I could and should feature a real O.P. (original prankster, if you will).

Bobby turns 90 this month and is as sharp as any other intelligent being out there. He lives on a barrier island outside of Charleston, South Carolina, and lives his life in that relaxed and preppy style ubiquitous among retired people on the East Coast. He is a WWII vet and never misses an opportunity to wear his USMC hat. He has seven grandchildren who are each more awesome than the last. I’m sure that awesomeness is a result of spending time with the smooth talking and handsome devil that is our grandpa. My brother calls him “Old Stallion,” and Bobby calls Patrick “Young Stallion” in return. Bobby really is the best (except for when he’s ornery, but if we’re being totally honest, we’re all less than stellar at times).

On a ride into town, my sisters and I asked Bobby to tell us about some of the practical jokes he has pulled. He started off with a story from his advertising days in Middletown, Ohio:

“We had a young writer [Jim] in our advertising staff who had a pretty long commute from home to work and every morning he would come in, he would not have had breakfast. So we had one of those old vending machines. And he would go to it and buy a cup of coffee and a package of those sort of powdered do-nuts. And this one particular morning I needed to talk to him about something and he was out of his office again, but he had left the do-nuts on his desk. And he was so easy to fool. I couldn’t resist. So I peeled open the package of do-nuts carefully, took a bite out of one, put it back in the package, and sealed it with a little piece of tape. Well, 10 minutes later, he comes into my office and said, ‘You can’t believe what somebody did. What somebody did to me.’

“And I said, ‘What was it? What’s the matter?’

“Then he told me, so I said, ‘Oh, that’s some terrible treatment.’ I said, ‘I don’t know what we can do about it, but next time, be more careful.’

“So he left and I picked up the telephone and called another guy in our art department—nice, young fellow. ‘Hey,’ I said, ‘You want to have a little fun with Jim? Call and ask him if he has anything to eat over there in his office.’ And he was dumb enough that he did it. And he called and asked, so Jim, of course, thought it was him. What was especially funny to me was that [Jim] said, ‘I can tell from the way the bite was taken out of it, so carefully, that somebody with a mustache had done it. This young artist had a nice, black mustache.”

This prank was subtle, much like when I play music at the lowest volume at my desk and observe coworkers’ reactions. However, once I learned that it is one in a long line of Jim-centric pranks, it carried more weight because I realized that Bobby’s pranking skills became more creative and refined as time went on.

Bobby told Katie, Mary, and me some more stories, like how he bought a fake and wonderfully tacky golf trophy for the office and his playful way of calling out the golf league’s notorious cheater. He told us about how a few years back, he and his friend Ike created a plaque that christened a well-traveled footbridge as the Bill B. Bridge. Bill B. had just not been re-elected to the town council, so Bobby thought, “Maybe he’ll feel good if he has a bridge named after him.” Of course, neither Ike nor Bobby had bought naming rights for the Bill B. Bridge or even gotten permission from the town, so the sign was taken down.

Nobody, not even Ike, is exempt from the O.P.’s shenanigans. Bobby and Ike are part of the aforementioned Java Java Club—a group of island “geezers” that gets together to drink coffee and scheme about once a month. They’re regulars, so when a Java Java barista gave the group membership cards, “Compliments of the management,” Ike wholeheartedly appreciated it. The other men weren’t fooled and probably guessed that Bobby had made the cards himself and tipped the barista into playing along. Even after the jig was up, Ike kept insisting that he gets a discount on account of his Java Java Membership Card. The owners finally gave in, and Ike actually does get discounted coffee at Java Java.

However much I love the turn of events in the Java Java epic, my favorite story dates back to the 1960s or 1970s:

“[The whole department] used to, as a group, a couple of times a season, go to a Cincinnati Reds baseball game. And we often bought seats in what they called an upper box. Second tier, but right in the front row. We’d sit there and drink our beer and eat our peanuts, but before we’d go in, I would go down to the local 5 and 10 cent store and buy a dozen plastic baseballs that looked like real balls. I’d bring them, put them in a sack and when we got to our seats, we’d distribute these balls. Whenever a foul ball would come up toward us, in our direction, we’d throw the fake balls. And down below, you’d see people scrambling for them. As soon as the people would touch the ball, they knew they’d been had.

“One time, we got there early, and Pete Rose was being interviewed by someone in a box seat right below us. I yelled, ‘Hey Pete!’ And he looked up and I threw one of the balls down there to him. And he laughed and threw the darn thing back and it came all the way back up to my seat—a lightweight, plastic ball. Those are hard to throw.”

Bobby and his coworkers were too involved in their fun to realize that they had a baseball (albeit a plastic one) that had graced the hands of Pete Rose, and they threw it away with the other fake foul balls. Someone below probably caught that ball and became upset that it wasn’t the foul ball he or she was looking for, never knowing that Pete Rose himself had clutched and thrown it earlier that day.

I just imagine people running around and wrestling each other for these plastic baseballs, and it makes me laugh so much. I can’t tell this story without laughing. It’s genius! It’s the work of a seasoned prankster. It is exclusive to its setting (thanks bag checks and audience cams at baseball games), but can still be appreciated for its ingenuity. Maybe, one day, I will emulate Bobby and reach that level of pranking brilliance.

Leslie Michaels is currently a Level 3 improv student at the DCH Training Center. She spends her spare time riding her bicycle, playing Ultimate Frisbee, or hanging out with her boyfriend, Netflix. She still questions whether she’s a dog person or a cat person.

A Study in Pranking, Trickery, and Other Shenanigans: Alcohol, Phones, and Coworkers

tablet When a group of friends from work goes out for drinks in the evening, of course something weird will happen (an odd couple forms, heart-to-heart’s happen, and the like). Honestly, the get together itself is an anomaly, especially when you and said friends work[ed] in a retail store. In my experience, oddity breeds more oddity.

During one of these shindigs, we drank some beer and talked about the interesting customers of the day, which turned into talking about who was still trapped at the store. One of those souls was Andy…that’s what we’ll call him, at least. Andy was the tablet whisperer, if you will, and anyone who called with a problem relating to a tablet was automatically sent to him.

So someone (I can’t remember who) hatched an incredibly mature plan to call the store and mess with Andy. The conversation had lulled a bit, I guess. A combination of peer pressure and alcohol landed me as the lucky caller. I dialed the number and hesitated before hitting the call button. All the things that could go wrong sped through my head—Andy getting seriously pissed, me getting written up, my joke falling flat, etc. Then I saw the unified, conspiratorial looks on my coworkers’ faces. Screw it, I thought and pressed the call button.

Who answered? Not Andy, but a manager. I thought it might be a sign that maybe I shouldn’t go through with it, but once again the alcohol/friends/joke overtook me.

“Yes, hi,” I said in the best British accent I could muster while trying to control my and the group’s laughter with a spastic hand gesture. “I bought a tablet from your store, say, three weeks ago, and I’m having some problems.”

The manager sent me along, and we giggled at the fact that I had tricked the manager and we were well on our way to tricking Andy too. Luckily, we remembered the fine point of not laughing during a prank phone call and were able to pull ourselves together before Andy answered.

“This is Andy,” he said.

I repeated my spiel in a shaky, but convincing enough British accent.

“Alright, what problem were you having?”

We had not planned what the problem would be, and I had to think of something quickly enough and ridiculous enough so the game could go on. Thank you, improv classes, for making this prank possible.

“Yes, I was told that I could use my tablet as a phone, but it is not working.” I ostensibly thought that using “yes” at the beginning of a sentence made me sound properly British.

“OK…” I could hear his mind ticking. “Who told you that?”

Not wanting to get anyone in trouble, I said that I couldn’t remember.

“Ma’am,” he said. “Our tablets do not have 4G, so you would not be able to use it as a phone. I’m sorry that someone gave you the wrong information.”

I didn’t want to back down, because where is the fun in that? This was going to be a good prank, dang it!

“I’m simply trying to sync my phone with my tablet. Surely someone can help me do that.”

“We can set up your email or create a Skype account,” he offered.

“I would like my text messages on there at the very least.”

“Alright, ma’am. Let me go to my desk to see what I can do. I’m going to need to put you on hold.”

Then came some on-hold music came on over the phone that we had to endure for somewhere between three-to-five minutes, a time that would make most customers impatient, possibly irate. This time we tried to stay quiet because our little game was going so well. We knew Andy was both dumbfounded and possibly a bit frustrated, which in hindsight was the goal.

When he finally took us off hold, he had a short monologue prepared about incompatible operating systems, designed to kill the dreams of anyone who is requesting something that just simply can’t be done. This speech was perfectly cordial and informative, and knowing about (and often implementing) this tactic made it all the funnier. The fact that I knew he was trying to get me off the line without calling me a moron-idiot-dumbass is probably what made me lose it. Maybe it was just the alcohol.

I choked on a laugh that was only strengthened by my drunk peanut gallery’s laughter.

“I can’t do this anymore. This is Leslie,” I confessed.

“Are you serious?” he asked.

“Yes…” There was a long silence on the other end. The peanut gallery went silent too. Oh crap, I thought.

“Dude, I seriously thought you were a customer.”

“Really?! How was my accent?!” I asked, excited that he wasn’t mad and that the prank call was successful.

The next day I worked, the manager who had answered the phone told me that she too had no idea it was me on the phone. Later in the day, one of the head cashiers came up to me and revealed why we were put on hold for so long: “Andy walked up to the register and said that a lady wants to use her tablet as a phone, and I was just like….” He opened his eyes wide, raised his eyebrows, and gasped. “We pretty much laughed and made fun of her for five minutes until Andy had to get back on the phone. I’m glad it was you and that she wasn’t, like, a real person.”

Unfortunately, there is probably someone out there with my made up problem. Just know, poor soul hoping to reach interchangeability between his or her phone and tablet, it’s currently a losing battle. Go buy a Samsung Note. It’s about the same size as a tablet.

Leslie Michaels is currently a Level 3 improv student at the DCH Training Center. She spends her spare time riding her bicycle, playing Ultimate Frisbee, or hanging out with her boyfriend, Netflix. She still questions whether she’s a dog person or a cat person.

(Image: Ann Wuyts/Creative Commons)

A Study in Pranking, Trickery, and Other Shenanigans: Engaged to James Franco

James FrancoAnyone who has worked retail knows that the monotony can be draining and boring. Sometimes, you have to play games to keep your mind working and don’t fall into sub-humanity. Whether it’s playing the meow game, à la Super Troopers, or another harmless gimmick, games can get you through life as a retail plebe. When I worked retail, I would make things up about my life when customers asked personal questions. I mostly did that to see what I could get away with, which became a fun game and made the days more interesting. One day, I was feeling particularly dishonest and just happened to be wearing the only piece of jewelry I own that is worth anything—a diamond and emerald ring that once belonged to my grandmother. I was helping an older woman find a particular product when she said, “Oh, your ring is beautiful! When did you get engaged?”

I was taken aback that she had handed me this gift so readily and that she didn’t notice that the ring was on my left pointer finger instead of the all-important ring finger. So imagine when the Grinch gets that “wonderful, awful idea.” I’m 100 percent sure that’s what I looked like.

(Sidenote: These quotes are paraphrased, as I am not a super human and can’t remember the conversation with complete accuracy.)

I said something along the lines of, “He took me to Reunion Tower for my birthday, and he proposed right there. It was a surprise. I had no idea it was coming! It was really sweet.” As you can tell, I’m a great actor/liar/whatever. Improv classes have improved this skill.

She leaned in. “And expensive.” She smiled a conspirator’s smile. “You better hang on to that one. Tell me more about your fiancé!”

And here’s where I made a decision…to be engaged to James Franco. “He’s an actor-slash-scholar. He lives in New York. I’m going to move up there with him after the wedding.”

“Have I seen anything he’s been in?”

“Oh probably not. He was in a film adaptation of As I Lay Dying… and he had a role in the Spiderman movies…” And just because I was pretty sure she had never seen it, I added in, “And a movie called Pineapple Express.”

Yeah, she had no idea, so she went on to ask about “the big day.” My answers became shorter as I became more bored the further away from “the game” we moved, so to speak. One-word answers sufficed for the more boring bits of our conversation.

I did not see that woman the rest of the time I worked at said retail store (oh the beauty of living in a big city), and I wonder if she ever ventured to a computer or tried to pick up a copy of Pineapple Express to possibly pinpoint who my fake fiancé is. But I’m a realist and know that she probably didn’t really care and most likely forgot about me, the lying retail plebe. And that’s okay, because for a few minutes, I was able to convincingly lie through my teeth (whether that is dependent on the liar or the audience is debatable and beside the point).

Leslie Michaels is currently a Level 2 improv student at the DCH Training Center. She spends her spare time riding her bicycle, playing Ultimate Frisbee, or hanging out with her boyfriend, Netflix. She still questions whether she’s a dog person or a cat person.

A Study in Pranking, Trickery, and Other Shenanigans: The Consequences of Using the Wrong Shipping Address

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a sister who has set herself up for it will be pranked. OK, enough with the Pride and Prejudice jokes… A year ago, I had just graduated college and had no job prospects, so I moved home with my parents and older sister Katie. I got to do fun things like empty the dishwasher, walk the dog, and sort the mail…You get the picture.

Anyway, one day my mom told me that my younger sister, Mary, had accidentally sent a package to our house instead of her dorm and that it was imperative we forward it to her. It sounded like something highly important, like it was one of those URGENT emails that pop up in your inbox highlighted red and accompanied by one of those cartoony exclamation points.

But as you probably guessed, dear, savvy reader, the package was not some textbook she needed ASAP, but a new pair of sunglasses. When the package arrived and I was doing my mail sorting duties, I instantly recognized that small rectangular box for what it was, as I had gifted a pair for myself the summer before. Plus, I knew Mary and her penchant for sunglasses. Just for good measure, I opened the package like the nosy sister I am, and lo and behold, there was a crisp, new Ray-Ban box inside the shipping box. And inside that Ray-Ban box there was a Ray-Ban case that held a pair of disappointingly normal sunglasses.

Sunglasses1

After walking the sunglasses around the house and laughing about how we had almost been duped, Katie and I began conspiring. Mom wanted to send the sunglasses where they came from, but Katie and I had bigger plans.

We gathered up old pairs of sunglasses ranging from a circular pair with useless, blue lenses to multicolored plastic glasses. We had settled on a cheap pair similar enough to the imperative glasses to make Mary think she had gotten scammed. But then we found a pair of jokey, Coke-bottle glasses that really needed a new home. So we replaced the Ray-Bans with that wonderful, shining pair and forwarded them to Mary along with a note that read, “They're real. Promise,” that I wrote with my left hand.

Sunglasses2

Not a week later, I received this text:

Sunglasses3

No, she did not call them (that would have been glorious) because she found the note and intuited it was my handiwork just from the word “promise.”

“I felt stupid and very confused… I opened the box and was like, what the eff?! because they weren’t what I was expecting at all, Mary reminisces. She further tells me that she thought for a fearful minute that she had, in fact, gotten scammed, but then saw the word “promise” and knew who was responsible.

Even though Katie and I were not there for the grand opening of the Ray-Ban box, the texts and knowledge that the prank was a success are satisfaction enough. Honestly, there’s nothing quite like making a sibling feel stupid and confused.

Leslie Michaels is currently a Level 2 improv student at the DCH Training Center. She spends her spare time riding her bicycle, playing Ultimate Frisbee, or hanging out with her boyfriend, Netflix. She still questions whether she’s a dog person or a cat person.

A Study in Pranking, Trickery, and Other Shenanigans: The Driveway Squatter

gate The very important Dictionary.com defines a prank as “a trick of an amusing, playful, or sometimes malicious nature.” As someone who has a disposition that is amusing, playful, and sometimes malicious (I promise, I’m not a horrible person), naturally, I love pulling pranks or just messing with people in general. These posts will chronicle my journey on the path to trickery Zen.

I live in an apartment complex that is gated. There’s a driveway for residents where we can use our clickers to open the gate and speed to our parking spots and then apartments. But there’s also a side driveway with a keypad so visitors can call the people they’re visiting, said resident can open the gate, and the visitor can come inside and park her/his car. This is a genius but simple concept to create a separate driveway for visitors so they don’t block the way for other residents as they wait to be let in.

Most visitors do like they’re supposed to. Thank you, mindful visitors! Others idle in the resident driveway.

These idlers either 1. Don’t understand the simple concept of two different driveways, or 2. Don’t give a hoot and inconvenience residents, forcing residents to let them into the complex. Signs point to the latter.

Because I’m paying to live somewhere that has a gate, I deserve the security (or semblance of) a gate can provide, which includes keeping out the creeps. If you skip the visitor driveway and don’t have a clicker, I’m going to assume that you’re a run-of-the-mill creep whose motivations are nefarious. In other words: sketchy.

I never let resident driveway squatters into the complex. I simply wait until they turn around and take their rightful spot in the visitor driveway…or they weasel their way in the exit after a car leaves the apartments. Sometimes, the squatter just squats, and by consequence, so do I.

On day, one of my roommates and I were stuck behind a frequent squatter in a nice, silver sedan. He kept inching forward, assuming that the entrance gate works on the same automatic system as the exit gate.

“You need a clicker, a-hole,” my roommate bluntly said to the squatter in the nice, silver sedan.

“Wait, let him get closer to the gate, then open it,” I replied.

We giggled like we were two kids who brought their mom a glass of water when she asked for ice water. See, there’s no ice?! Hehehe. Anyway, he got about a foot away from the gate, and then my roommate used her awesome clicker power.

Because the squatter in the nice, silver sedan squats so often, I’ve decided to play the game: “See how close he’s willing to get this time.” This dance has gone on for a few weeks, equaling four encounters, each ending in him getting incrementally closer to the gate before it magically opens. I imagine the tension mounting in his car as he approaches the gate and the relief he must feel when the gate opens. And we can only guess what will happen when I’m not there with my clicker.

In this case, the prank may be lame and slightly malicious, but I believe that the squatter in the nice, silver sedan proves that a non-resident that uses the resident driveway can be both inconsiderate and unintelligent.

Leslie Michaels is currently a Level 2 improv student at the DCH Training Center. She spends her spare time riding her bicycle, playing Ultimate Frisbee, or hanging out with her boyfriend, Netflix. She still questions whether she’s a dog person or a cat person.

(Image: Antti T. Nissinen/Creative Commons)

What We're Loving: Man-Phone Love, The 1st Amendment, Self-Fulfillment, Reconfigured Shakespeare, and Eternal Presidents

dch_what we're loving_02_14_2014Each Friday, DCH performers, teachers, and students offer their recommendations for what to watch, read, see, hear, or experience. This week Ashley Bright becomes a better person,  David Allison demands that you drop everything, Julia Cotton ponders what it means to be an adult, Nick Scott suggests a new take on a classic play, and Ryan Callahan takes a trip above the 38th parallel.

Her-Theodore

I will admit that before I saw Her, the plot did not at all interest me. But with the lure of an afternoon movie with an old friend and the cushion of the name Spike Jonze, I went to see it. And I'm grateful that I did. Some may call it hyperbole to say things like, "it changed me" or "it made me a better person" to describe a movie experience, and maybe it is. But this movie certainly stuck to my ribs. About halfway through watching it, I thought to myself that it was one of my new favorites. I didn't care about the plot or how it ended; it was beautiful and that was enough. Afterward, I was comforted to hear my friend express all of the goofy thoughts that I was having. We were both in great moods and spouting off nutty phrases like how we felt more alive and refreshed. Her made me think about how I experience the world and the people in it. Our encounters make us who we are. If you're not into gorgeous cinematography or all of the hippy dippy mumbo jumbo I threw up above, there's a sassy video game character that'll make you laugh enough to make watching Her worthwhile. - Ashley Bright

imagesThis past week, you might’ve heard about a stunt in LA known as Dumb Starbucks.  Someone went through and created a carbon copy of a Starbucks, complete with the exact same drinks options, sizing, signage, everything.  The only difference?  They put the word “dumb” in front of every word so that they would be protected under the laws of parody.  It was pretty great. When I first heard about it, I just thought it was a fun idea.  Then, news quickly broke that it was perpetrated by Nathan Fielder.  Fielder was the mastermind of Nathan for You, one of my favorite shows of last year and created Dumb Starbucks for a segment we’ll see in season two.  If you haven’t checked out the first season of Nathan for You, then drop everything you have planned this evening (Unless you’re going to a show at the Dallas Comedy House!) and check it out for free on Comedy Central’s website. Nathan For You takes the standard concept of highlighting a struggling small business and bringing in a savior to fix everything, and puts a comedic twist on it.  Fielder’s ideas are the perfect combination of absurd, but still kinda sorta not bad and his commitment to them is astounding. - David Allison

judd-apatow-hints-at-girls-season-3-renewalContrary to what you may read or hear about HBO’s Girls, it is not a show about Lena Dunham walking around naked in the name of “girl power”. To me, it’s a show about four “girls” trying to understand what it means to be an adult. Lena is indeed sometimes naked, but I never found it an effort to tackle the whole body image issue as much as an artistic way to express the raw vulnerability that comes with youth and inexperience. I relate to this show because, I, even as a 32-year-old mother of two, always feel like I’m trying to know how to be a grown up. I’ve never felt like I’ve ever made the full adult transformation. In this series about early-20-somethings, I see a lot of late-20-early-30-something Julia.

In the pilot, we meet 24-year-old Hannah (Lena Dunham) living the life I assumed I would be living right out of college: NYC apartment with best friend. Internship that will surely lead to the dream career. Frequent sex with a dude who could have sex with ANYONE, but chooses to have sex with me. Parties with a cool friend who has a british accent. You know-- being a young adult. It is also in this pilot, however, that Hannah’s parents hit her with the all too familiar phrase of impetus: “We are cutting you off.” That phrase that makes one realize that all of these years you thought you were ascending towards becoming a human being all on your own, you’ve actually been dangling from an invisible umbilical cord yet to be severed. Sure being able to financially support yourself is the most obvious thing we have to deal with, but adulthood cannot be summed up to paying bills. Throughout the series, we watch Hannah and her friends try to understand what life is when you are in charge of yourself for-realzies. Along the way, they irrationally destroy relationships, fumble with career goals, mishandle health issues, “inappropriately” cope with death, and of course, deal with boys. "Another Man’s Trash" (S2) is probably my favorite episode because Hannah gets a look at what she thought adulthood meant only to realize how much her own self fulfillment is important to her.

In the level 5 class I TA at DCH, a student brought up that he was watching shows and realized that there are seasoned performers who sometimes don’t do all of the things that he’s been taught in class. He then rationalized, “... everyone is always learning, I guess.” There is no true adult transformation that happens. You don’t graduate college and *poof* get, maintain and excel at a job. You don’t have a baby and *poof* know all it takes to be a parent. You don’t go through an improv training program, perform in troupes and *poof* never an improv blunder make. This show presents the idea that the real goal is not simply to be an adult, but more to become a complete person, and that that is an ongoing effort. Perhaps understanding that concept... is what makes you an adult. - Julia Cotton

51zhJDXzNXLThis week I started making plans to see one of my top five favorite authors, Christopher Moore, speak on his new book, The Serpent of Venice, when it releases in April. The Serpent of Venice is the sequel to what is generally agreed as Moore's best work, Fool, which I am making my "What We're Loving" pick for this week. Every other book Moore writes is a work of historical fantasy. He famously filled in the lost years of Jesus Christ's life in Lamb and more recently revealed what was "really" happening behind the scenes in the late 1800's French art scene in Sacre Bleu. With Fool, Moore takes readers in the world of King Lear, Shakespeare's famous king that is slowly losing his mind, and tells the story from the perspective of King Lear's court jester, Pocket. The book is incredibly well-researched, and Moore expertly blends in other Shakespeare stories and characters. The book is Moore firing on all cylinders: historical references, literature references, vivid characters, and emotional core (Pocket is a jester because he had a terrible life), and dick jokes. So many dick jokes. Also, there are fuck-stockings, which were turned into a real-life product for purchase on his website. - Nick Scott 

Pyongyang-CoverI moved this week. One of the many joys of moving from one apartment to a slightly larger apartment in the same complex is rediscovering favorite but forgotten books, or books that I couldn't live without but haven't read, or books that I had no idea that I owned. Okay, packing and unpacking the books was the only joy of moving. Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea is a graphic novel from 2005 by Québécois illustrator Guy Delisle, and one of those favorite but forgotten books. I picked up Pyongyang years ago at Comic-Con, based entirely on its cover and subject matter. I am fascinated by all things North Korean. That that a country that sounds like the home of a supervillian from a rejected Matt Helm script commands so much power on the world stage, that such a county even exists, fills me with a combination of joy and terror. This book came about after Delisle traveled to North Korea to supervise an animation project  for a French television station. From the moment he steps off the plane and into an airport so dark that he can't see his guide's face (there is barely any light in North Korea, and no bulbs over 40 watts,) Delisle is brisked away to "admire" the highest point in the city, a 22 meter bronze statue of Kim il-Sung, Hero of the People, Father of the Nation, and, despite being dead for 20 years,  Eternal President for Life. From there, the absurdities and contradictions pile on for Delisle: the mandatory photos of Kim il-Sung and Kim Jung-il in every room on every floor of every building, the mandatory Kim Il-Sung pins every citizen is required to wear, the inability to go anywhere without a guide or translator, the ban on outsiders taking pictures of garbage, which would damage the image of North Korea as the most beautiful place on Earth. Pyongyang is a perfect example of truth in comedy. Delisle doesn't have to make any wacky choices, or tell silly jokes, or create bizarre situations. He just has to be present and observe.  The book could have easily been preachy or pandering, but Delisle's touch makes the absurdities of life in the most isolated country in the world all the more amusing, and the atrocities and oppression that exist right beneath the surface all the more chilling. - Ryan Callahan